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Tangled Lies

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"Please," she gasped. Desire had swiftly outpaced her experience, and she was helpless in the grip of it. She needed him—her body was afire with longing, and yet she was unsure of how to tell him, how to move.

Ben had no such qualms. With deft assurance he pulled her over him, positioning her hips above his. His hand reached down and found her, damp and ready for him, and she trembled above him, her eyes wide and hungry.

"Do you want me, Rachel?" he whispered, his voice tight with desire.

"I want you."

"Show me," he murmured. She could feel his pulsing hardness resting just at the entrance of her overwhelming need, wanting her, teasing her, waiting for her.

All hesitation left her. Slowly she sank down, filling her aching body with him, joining them together with a sure, steady pressure. And when he was finally one with her, she collapsed against his chest, trembling with a thousand flyaway longings that threatened to tear her apart, unable to complete what she had started, needing him to regain control.

He knew without words. He held her for a moment, his arms cradling her on top of his tense, sweat-slick body. And then his firm hands caught her hips, holding them, as he slowly withdrew, then arched up to fill her again. Rachel's breath was coming in staggered gasps, her eyes were glazed, and the hands that grasped his strong shoulders were convulsive fists, her nails digging into him.

He could feel her tighten around him, feel the shudders that shook the body that covered his so sweetly. And suddenly he abandoned the control that was so crucial to him, pulling away and then thrusting into her, once, twice, six times, before her body went rigid in his arms.

All she could do was cling to him, tight around his straining body as wave after wave of midnight darkness clenched her body around his, brought muffled cries from her throat and tears pouring down her face. And as each wave began to die away another took its place, until she was gasping and sobbing and beating against his strong, trembling body. And with one last deep thrust he joined her in that final moment of life and death.

She collapsed against his chest, breathless, the spasms dying away with a stubborn reluctance. She could feel his strong, rough hands running along her back, holding her to him, at a wonderful variance with the heated passion they'd just shared. She could feel his heartbeat slow, feel his lips gently touch her temple, his breath warm on her flushed skin.

Sudden embarrassment made her attempt to shift her position, but his hands slid back down to her hips, holding her in place.

"Don't leave me." It was the breath of a whisper, a voice in the darkness that she may have only imagined. But the tiny possibility that he might have asked it of her was enough. Putting her head back on his shoulder, she let the tension flow from her. Cradled against his heated, sweat-slippery body, she slept once more.

Chapter Nineteen

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Rachel was alone when she woke up the next time. Bright sunlight flooded the room, penetrating even the sheet she'd thrown over her head sometime during the morning hours. She didn't need to open her eyes to know she was alone—as wakefulness slowly intruded she was conscious of a sense of incompleteness.

Throwing back the sheet, she pulled herself out of bed. Her nightgown was draped neatly over the chair by the bed—Ben must have picked it up when he got dressed that morning. She pulled it over her head, then caught sight of the white shirt he'd been wearing the day before. Reaching out a tentative hand, she stroked the thin cotton sleeve, imagining Ben still inside it. And then she pulled it on over her nightgown.

It smelled like him. Of the hot, blazing sun and sea water, and those vile cigarettes. And something else, something indefinably Ben. Hugging the shirt tightly around her slender body, she made her rounds of the bathroom, the kitchen for a cup of coffee, ending up on the porch, stretched out once more on the steps, her nightgown pulled up to her knees. It was warm enough to discard Ben's shirt, but that was the last thing she was about to do. She sat there, content, sipping on her coffee and watching the ever-changing blue-green waves.

So Ben had gone to the Ne Pali cliffs. It was in a brief note he'd left for her on the kitchen table, offering not much in the way of information. But she had begun to understand how he thought; obviously he had decided that Emmett was still hiding out somewhere in the wilderness area that had harbored fugitives for centuries.

She could have told him otherwise. When he was first on the run he might have gone into the jungle surrounding the jagged, magnificent Ne Pali Coast on the north side of the island. But Emmett had always been a man who liked his creature comforts—good food, a warm bed, fine wines. Roughing it in the jungle was all right in times of necessity, but after fifteen years the romance would have begun to pall a bit. She wouldn't be surprised if Emmett was in disguise as a stockbroker or an insurance salesman somewhere on the island, bringing in a very good living.

But if it made Ben happy to scramble over those rocky cliffs in search of a story, then she wished him well. Much as a major part of her longed for him, missed him, her more sensible side was glad he had chosen this day of all days to leave her alone. Because today was the day Emmett would come.

He hadn't missed a birthday in fifteen years, and he certainly wasn't going to miss one now, when she was so close. She turned twenty-eight today, and she was going to stay right where she was and await her long-lost brother.

Cradling the coffee mug in both hands, she leaned forward, squinting out at the sea as if looking for answers. She was conscious of a small, nagging, ridiculous sense of guilt for not having told Ben. Not that she owed him complete honesty in the matter of Emmett, far from it. And she wanted her first meeting with her brother in fifteen years to be uncomplicated by a roving reporter who also happened to be her lover. Her lover. She savored the phrase, reveling in the newness of it. She had had boyfriends, she had had a fiancé, she had even made a fumbling, adolescent form of love with them that was a world away from the passion-dark moments she had shared with Ben O'Hanlon last night. But she would never have called any of them her lover. Not like Ben. She hugged the thought to herself, along with his soft white shirt, and smiled out at the ocean.

Once she had Emmett settled in her own mind she could concentrate on Ben. After all, she had been a sister longer than she had been in love with Ben—first things first. With Emmett sure to come and Ben returning to her, life was taking on a positively golden hue. It was going to be a glorious day.

Rachel was in the kitchen fixing herself a very late lunch indeed when she heard him. It had taken the far side of starvation to drive her from her comfortable perch on the front porch steps, and even then she took a long hot shower before dressing in denim shorts and a pale blue shell. She still wore Ben's white shirt, holding it to her as some sort of talisman, a good luck charm. One she might need before the day was through. She was mixing the last bit of mayonnaise from the jar into a bowl of tiny shrimp when she heard the footsteps on the front porch.

She stopped—as did her motions, her breath, her heartbeat. Had Emmett finally decided to show his face? She had waited all morning, but there had been no sign of him. She still had no doubts that he would come today, she had always known it. Please, dear God, let it be him.

''I hope I'm not intruding?" Father Frank's rotund figure appeared in the kitchen door, and Rachel let out her pent-up breath.

"Of course not," she said warmly, wiping her hands on the sides of her shorts and moving forward to welcome him. She could only hope the crushing disappointment didn't show in her too expressive face. "You're always welcome, Father. What brings you to this side of the island?"

"I wanted to see how my young friend was getting along," he said, eyeing the shrimp salad with an appropriately soulful look. "And I hoped I'd get a chance to finally meet your brother." He glanced around the kitchen expectantly, as if waiting to see the supposed Emmett materialize out of the ancient cupboards.

"He's not here, I'm afraid. He'll be so sorry to have missed you—he and Uncle Harris

have been trying to track you down for days now."

"I'm a busy man," Father Frank explained vaguely, his attention back on Rachel's lunch. "My parishioners are a far-flung group, and I've been particularly occupied these last few days, getting ready for my new assignment. But I've come at a bad time: I'm keeping you from your lunch."

With amusement banishing the last of her disappointment, Rachel took her cue. "Please, join me, Father. There's more than enough for two."

Father Frank didn't waste time with polite demurals. "I would love to, my dear. Tell me, is your brother due back sometime soon?"

She returned to the table and began dishing up the salad. "He's spending the day on the Ne Pali cliffs on some wild goose chase, and I imagine he won't be back till dark." She paused, handing him his plate. "And he's not my brother."

Father Frank appeared unmoved by this revelation. "Ice tea would be fine," he replied in answer to her proffered glass.

"You knew, didn't you?" she accused him, leading the way back out onto the shaded porch. Her tone held no rancor.

"Let's just say I suspected something of the kind. In my position one hears things, you know. It seemed more than likely that the Emmett Chandler who so conveniently showed up was not the same man who disappeared from here some fifteen years ago."

"Why didn't you warn me?" She climbed into the hammock, sitting cross-legged with her plate in her lap, the glass of ice tea balanced precariously. "Do you think it was fair letting me go off like that to a probable swindler?"

"Oh, I didn't think you were in any danger." He was disposing of the shrimp salad at a phenomenal rate. "I had asked a few pertinent questions of a few important people when he first showed up. I knew you'd be safe enough. Though I must admit I thought he'd get rid of you the first chance he could. I was hoping you'd put, if you'll pardon the expression, the fear of God into him, make him think twice about whatever he had in mind. If I had known at the time that he'd let you stay I might have tried to say something. Not that there was much I could have done. I had no proof, and the confessional is sacred."

"I knew it!' Her brown eyes blazed triumphantly. "You have seen my brother! He came to see you, didn't he? He always said he'd return to the Church someday."

"I'm afraid I can't say, Rachel." His plate was clean; he licked a finger, and reached out to pick up the last crumb. "The church is very strict in these matters."

Rachel smiled brilliantly. "I understand," she said. Of course he could say no more; he had said enough. Enough to assure her that Emmett was indeed alive and well and living in the islands. Her knowledge of her brother supplied the rest: He would come today, on her birthday. With that knowledge secure, she changed the subject. "When are you leaving for South America, Father?"

The priest made a small, apologetic moue. "Tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" she echoed, distressed. "I thought it was going to be a matter of weeks." She felt curiously bereft at the thought of this friendly, understanding man disappearing from her life so quickly, when she had only just begun to know him.

"Things moved a bit faster than anyone expected. My orders came through, my replacement arrived early, and El Salvador was disposed to be welcoming. My superiors and I could think of no reason to delay. I'll be sorry not to see the outcome of your tangled situation, Rachel. I wish we had time to get to know each other better." He seemed genuinely sad, a sadness echoing Rachel's own.

"I do, too. But I can tell you what the outcome of my tangled situation is going to be," she said with impish certainty.

"Have you the gift of second sight from your Irish ancestors, Miss Rachel Chandler?" he queried with mock severity.

"Nope. From my Jewish grandmother." She stretched languidly, then jumped up as her glass of ice tea spilled in her lap. "Damn," she said, then looked guiltily at the cleric.

"Damn is a very handy word, Rachel," he said mildly. "I use it myself every now and then. Why don't we take a walk down by the water and you can outline your future? This will be the last time I get a chance to walk on the beach for quite some time. I doubt the beaches in El Salvador are quite as glorious."

Rachel hesitated for only a moment. She wouldn't miss Emmett; he would wait for her. Doubtless he would recognize the priest's ancient black Ford and know it was safe. She could walk with Father Frank with equanimity, knowing that Emmett would still come.

In answer she held out her hand to him. "I'd love you to come. I always liked fairy tales, hearing them and telling them." They started down the steps, the plump, black-garbed priest and the long-legged young woman. "Emmett is going to reappear today, and he and Ben will hit it off beautifully."

"His name is Ben?" They walked through the damp solidly packed sand, her bare feet and his shoes making a strange duet of footprints.

She nodded. "Ben O'Hanlon. He's a newspaper reporter—he even won a Pulitzer Prize. He wants to interview Emmett for a book on sixties radicals still on the run."

Father Frank looked profoundly disturbed, the afternoon sun glinting off his balding head. "I've heard the name," he said slowly. "That seems a lot of trouble to go to just for a story. Possible fraud, among other things."

"He's gone through worse. Before he came here he was imprisoned in South America for six months for sticking his nose where it didn't belong."

"Some of the South American governments, and I use the term loosely, have an aversion to reporters," Father Frank mused. "And you're certain that's what Ben O'Hanlon wants from Emmett Chandler?"

"What else could he want?" Rachel replied reasonably.

"What else, indeed?" Father Frank was concentrating on their footprints, and she couldn't read his expression. "So tell me more about your fairy-tale ending. Emmett and Ben will become good friends, have a series of interviews that will win him another Pulitzer Prize…"

"You're good at this," Rachel laughed. "How about a Nobel Prize while we're at it? Emmett will come back to San Francisco, giving up his inheritance to all the greedy aunts and uncles, and move near me. He'll be married, and give me five nieces and nephews to play with."

"Will you like his wife?"

"We'll be best friends. She'll even be matron of honor at my wedding."

"You're thinking of getting married?"

She nodded. "To Ben O'Hanlon."

This time he did look at her. "Does he know?"

"Not yet. But he will eventually."

"You love him." It was a statement, not a question, and his eyes were filled with deep concern.

"Of course. But I told you that days ago, when I thought he was my brother." She laughed ruefully. "You didn't give me much help that day. I wish you could have dropped a hint or two."

"I didn't know for certain. There was always a chance in a million that he really was your brother. And I still think I gave you the best possible advice. If he wasn't your brother, you had nothing to worry about, and if he was, worrying would have only given it added weight in your mind. By relaxing about the whole thing you would have negated its power over you, and soon enough you would have turned to someone more suitable."

"Maybe. I can't really imagine not loving Ben, even if he were my brother."

"Well, fortunately you don't have to deal with that. He's not your brother, thank heavens."

"Thank heavens," she echoed.

"So now that I know about your future, Rachel Chandler, tell me about your past," he suggested in a warm voice.

It was a real gift in anyone, particularly a priest, Rachel reflected, to have such a natural interest and compassion for perfect strangers. She had to marvel at his skill in drawing her out, even as she told him with traces of humor the saga of her twenty-eight years. He seemed particularly interested in the last fifteen of those twenty-eight, and how she had dealt with her brother's disappearance. Apparently he was satisfied that she had done all right, for when she came to the end of her rambling tale he nodded approvingly.

"Ben O'Hanlon will be lucky if he wins you," he said.

"He's alread

y won me," she replied with a grin.

"Perhaps. I'm afraid you might find that things are often a little more complicated than they first seem. The course of true love has never, I repeat, never run smoothly."

"I've begun to catch on to that fact. Don't you think we've already had our share of complications?"

Father Frank shook his balding head. "I doubt it." Catching sight of her suddenly worried expression, he smiled, squeezing her hand comfortingly. "Don't worry, Rachel. You're a very resourceful, loving woman. I have no doubt at all you'll have your fairy-tale ending, even if you have to earn it with blood, sweat, and tears. It won't be exactly as you imagined, but I'm sure it will be close enough."

Rachel looked up at him for a long, silent moment. They were back at the cottage again, and she knew as well as he did that it was time for him to leave. "What time's your plane tomorrow?" she queried, stalling for time.

"Two in the afternoon. I'm flying to the mainland first, then on to El Salvador."

"I wish you weren't going."

He smiled down at her, the beneficial smile that was warmer than the rays of the Hawaiian sun. "I'll think of you often, Rachel. Take good care of Ben—I think he needs it."

"I will. And you take care of yourself." She went into his arms then, holding him tightly, loath to let him leave. His embrace was as strong, and they clung to each other for a long, emotional moment. When he released her and stepped back there was a deep sadness in his face, despite the smile, and Rachel could feel tears lodge in her throat and fill her eyes. For some strong reason it felt as if still another part of her life was being ripped from her, and a sudden desolation filled her.

"Good-bye, Rachel," he said softly. "God be with you." And then he was gone, swiftly, without looking back.

Chapter Twenty

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Emmett didn't come. She should have known it; somewhere deep inside she should have realized that it was too good to be true. She hadn't ever really had much claim to being psychic, despite her cheerful assertion to Father Frank there was second sight in her family. But that morning she had been so certain, so very positive that he wouldn't let her birthday pass without some word.





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